Monday, July 20, 2009

Tight security for Tamiflu supplies as first centre opens

Anna Davies, Mark Prigg and Ellen Widdup

NHS security guards were patrolling the Tower Hamlets centre which is so well protected that health bosses are refusing to say exactly where it is.

Only people who have been diagnosed with the virus are being given the location to avoid it being overrun by the “worried well”. Other centres which will be set up across London will be protected to prevent thefts of the drug and ensure staff are not attacked by panicking patients.

Every primary care trust in London must set up antiviral distribution centres by the end of the week but Tower Hamlets opened its one early because of the demand for medication. It is the worst hit area in the country. Mr Burnham visited the centre in Mile End and labelled it a “model of good practice”. He washed his hands — one of the ways to prevent the H1N1 strain from spreading.

A spokesman for NHS Tower Hamlets said: “We are not giving out the address at the moment. We don't want lots of the worried well flocking there. There is also a view that if you name the centre some people might go there to get Tamiflu without being assessed first.” The centre is designed for “flu friends” who are picking up medication for people suffering from swine flu.

The spokesman added: “The security guards are from a team within the health service. They are very discreet. More can be drawn in if necessary.”

Mr Burnham said Tower Hamlets may have such high numbers of the virus because of overcrowding in houses, a younger population, and more inter-generational mixing within some parts of the Asian community.

But he added the NHS trust was “coping magnificently” and setting an “excellent example”. So far 29 British people suffering from swine flu have died since the outbreak began and 10 of those were in London.

Health bosses across London worked through the weekend to decide on the location of more than 100 secure distribution points for the drug. They will be set up in pharmacies and clinics across the capital.

A national pandemic flu service will be launched on Thursday. Patients will be able to use a phone line or go online to get authorisation for Tamiflu before going to a distribution centre.

The move comes after the NHS was accused of issuing conflicting advice on the dangers the flu poses to pregnant women. The National Childbirth Trust said women should delay getting pregnant, while the Royal College of Midwives said pregnant women should simply avoid crowds and unnecessary travel

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